This is going to be short, because I’m very, very tired.
“Human beings can’t eat mice and birds,” said Blanchefleur. “They have to cook their food.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Professor Owl. “An inefficient system, I must say. I believe I had – but where did I put it?” He turned around, looking perplexed, then opened the door of a closet under the stairs. He poked his head in, and then tossed several things out, so both Ivan and Blanchefleur had to dodge them. A pith helmet, a butterfly net, and a pair of red flannel underwear for what must have been a very tall man. “Yes, here is it. But you’ll have to help me with it.”
“It” was a large iron kettle. Ivan helped the owl pull it out of the closet and place it on the long wooden table. He looked into it, not knowing what to expect, but it was empty.
“It’s a magic kettle, of course,” said Professor Owl. “I seem to remember that it makes soup. You can sleep on the second floor. The third is my study, and I hope you will refrain from disturbing me during daylight hours, when I will be very busy indeed. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going out for a bit of a hunt. I do hope you will be useful to me. My last apprentice was a disappointment.” He waddled comically across the floor and up the stairs.
“These scholarly types aren’t much for small talk,” said Blanchefleur.
“I thought he was going out?” said Ivan.
“He is,” said Blanchefleur. “You don’t think he’s just going to walk out the door, do you? He’s an owl. He’s going to launch himself from one of the tower windows.”
Ivan looked into the kettle again. Still empty. “Do you really think it’s magic?” he asked. He had eaten the bread and cheese a long time ago, and his stomach was starting to growl.
“Try some magic words,” said Blanchefleur.
“Abracadabra,” he said. “Open Sesame.” What other magic words had he learned in school? If he remembered correctly, magic had not exactly been a regular part of the curriculum.
“You really are an idiot,” said Blanchefleur. She sprang onto the table, then sat next to the kettle. “Dear Kettle,” she said. “We’ve been told of your magical powers in soup-making, and are eager to taste your culinary delights. Will you please make us some soup? Any flavor, your choice, but not onion because his breath is pungent enough already.”
From the bottom, the kettle filled with something that bubbled and had a delicious aroma. “There you go,” said Blanchefleur. “Magical items have feelings, you know. They need to be asked nicely. Abracadabra indeed!”
“I still need a spoon,” said Ivan.
“With all you require for nourishment, I wonder that you’re still alive!” said Blanchefleur. “Look in the closet.”
In the closet, Ivan did indeed find several carved wooden soup spoons, as well as a croquet set, several pairs of boots, and a stuffed alligator.
“Beef stew,” he said, tasting what was in the kettle. “Would you like some?”
“I’m quite capable of hunting for myself, thank you,” said Blanchefleur. “Don’t wait up. I have a feeling that when the Professor said you should be up by dawn, he meant it.”
That night, Ivan slept on the second floor of the tower, where he found a comfortable bed, a desk, and a large traveling trunk with Oswald carved on it. He wondered if Oswald had been the professor’s last apprentice, the one who had been such a disappointment. Because there were no pajamas in the satchel he had been given at the Castle in the Forest, he slept in the red flannel underwear. In the middle of the night, he thought he felt Blanchefleur jump on the bed and curl up next to his back. But when he woke up in the morning, she was gone.